Sunday, 24 November 2013

The blog post in which I reflect on how I'm not making much progress

[caption id="attachment_3475" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Print One of my earliest cartoons[/caption]

I’ve decided that Sunday is going to be my day of rest so, naturally, I’ve found time to write this blog post. I’m not entirely sure what this post is going to be about beyond wanting to say: the problem of not working the usual working week is that there’s no point at which you can’t be asked to work. Except I’ve now decided that weekends are, generally, going to be my own.

I say ‘my own’ but my Saturday was entirely consumed with drawing a strip for the next issue of ‘Red All Over The Land’, the LFC fanzine. The deadline is Wednesday but I expect next week to be busy so I thought I better get it drawn. I enjoyed the drawing process and I am pleased with the result but by about 7pm last night I was beginning to question my sanity, not that I haven’t questioned it regularly over recent weeks.

The anxiety stems from my distrust of the arts. I was brought up not to believe in art. Not that my parents ever discouraged me from studying the arts but my entire schooling was always about the sciences. It meant that I pursued subjects towards which I felt a general indifference. I like science. Science fascinates me. However, science never excited my imagination. I found learning formula tedious. Wiring a plug didn’t excite me. I didn’t even really want to do a computer degree but I did one anyway. I’d got interested in computers because I was fascinated with computer graphics. I wanted to work for Industrial Light and Magic and I wanted beyond anything to do a Film degree and to make films. When the reality of my interest in computers turned into writing databases for a local telecommunications company, my unhappiness consumed me. A year after leaving polytechnic, I enrolled at the local college for their film course.

Of course, it never worked out like that. People might say we all have the same chances but we're bound by circumstance. So few people enrolled on the film course that it was dropped and the class merged with Media Studies. I spent the next year studying newspaper ownership whilst, ironically, the majority of people setting out to study media studies left the course. The few of us left had all originally enrolled form film studies. I was also doing English at the same time and my English teacher persuaded me to take my A level in a year instead of two. I loved writing so it felt natural to follow his suggestion that I should study literature at university. Eight months after setting out to study film, I was starting an English degree at a proper University. I suppose it was another compromise. I loved literature but my true love has always been film. Yet I have this strange neurosis that limits my actions. I think of it as a ‘working class’ neurosis in that it’s the same belief that study should have some chance of a job at the end of it. I don’t know why but studying literature seemed to fulfill that criteria more than studying film.

Even when I went on to do my degree and doctorate, I never entirely believed in the Arts. Or, at least, I recognised that there was a huge area of the arts devoted to things which defied logic. Modern poetry has become one of my pet hates. I needed to see the structure or design of a poem before I would accept it as poetry. Expression for the sake of expression was meaningless to me. I suppose that’s why I always wanted to study film. Films had evident structure and a clear language.

Although film was always my passion, I’ve always been interested in art and illustration. I remember watching a BBC documentary about Robert Crumb many years ago and I recall being utterly absorbed with him and his work. Yet I also knew that I couldn’t draw. I’d never been encouraged to draw at school. I didn’t even know how to use an eraser.

It laughable now, thinking back on my ignorance. I genuinely thought that to draw you needed to draw something first time as though the perfect artist was Picasso with his one line drawings. Learning to use an eraser was my Damascene moment; realising that drawing isn’t about mastery of the pencil but mastery of the eraser. It has more to do with what you choose to rub away than it has to do with what you draw. Looking at my work now, I can see that I’ve progressed a little but not enough, if you look at my earliest cartoons (below). I also see the gulf between what I can do and what I’d like to produce. I suppose this explains the problem I now face trying to be more casual as a cartoonist. I’ve had such a tortuous path to this point, I can’t simply pick up a pen and draw. I still need the safety net of the pencil line to guide me. When Ralph Steadman looked in my eyes and said ‘always work straight in ink’ I nodded but thought ‘ah, that’s true for real artists but not for me’. And I still believe that.

If you add up my life, place whatever small achievements I’ve made against the false turns, regrets, and many mistakes, I suppose the final sum would amount to not much more than zero. What I mean by that is that I feel like I’ve not really progressed much beyond where I started. I wish I’d started to draw much earlier in life and I wish I’d pursued my love of films. I wish I could grow a hipster beard and be one of those bohemian types. I wish I was the idealised artist I see in my mind who believes in his work so much that he isn’t racked by constant doubts and misgivings. I wish I didn’t feel like a fraud who he wakes in the middle of the night cursing his bad choices and swearing that come daylight he’ll march to the job centre and take the first packing job or postal round they offer him. I wish I had the confidence in my work that meant that I wouldn’t feel so happy about drawing for an entire Saturday and then giving the result away for nothing.

For anybody interested, here’s where I began my cartooning. The dates on these suggests it was about four years ago, though I can’t believe it's been that long. These were some of the first cartoons I ever drew, using a computer package and the same tiny entry-level Wacom tablet that I find myself still using. One day I might feel like I'm a real illustrator and buy myself a professional tablet. Perhaps one day when somebody actually buys one of my cartoons… Perhaps it will be another four years. Perhaps never.

Lamb violin
Carrot love




Jelly moulds Tjnsel

snow cannibal 2



Dad at 13


  1. Really like the four modern graces :-)

  2. Thanks Beau. Looking through these old cartoons (and there are hundreds), I'm beginning to think I should redraw some of them. My cartoon ideas seemed so much better when I was full of naive optimism. ;)

  3. Are you a fan of B. Kliban? The 4 modern graces has the same surreal humour as B. Kliban.

  4. Hi Ben. Yes, I'm a *huge* fan of Kliban. In fact, I'd never thought I could ever be a cartoonist until a fellow blogger introduced me to Kliban. It was a life-changing moment. Up until then. I'd been a Photoshopper (see my archive above) but seeing Kliban for the first time, made me realise I really wanted to move to that more surreal humour which I enjoy. This post contains some of my very early drawings, done digitally and not very well. I've written about Kliban quite a bit on the blog.